Grated Expectations – The Pressures of the Modern Lunch Box

By Victoria Vanstone

“Muuuuum, can I have grated cheese instead of sliced in my sandwiches?” 
“Yes, darling” 
“Muuum, can you cut my grapes longs ways, like my friends have them?” 
“Yes, sweetie pie” 
“And would you like me to individually peel the little green fuckers using my teeth?” I say, just out of ear shot. 
“What Mummy?”
“Nothing darling” 

I stand at the chopping board slicing the grapes. I do it with care. I run the knife down the wooden board and scrape them off into the specific designated compartment entitled ‘Fruit’. I do this for all three lunch boxes and then read the little note under the plastic coating that says ‘Protein’. I cut up some ham, pop it in its section and move onto ‘Grain’. Yes, grain. Geez. I grab a packet of cheesy chips from the cupboard and pour them in. I feel instant failure. What if another mum sees the unhealthy florescent snack tucked in amongst the super foods? Will the authorities be called? 

I consider going into the back garden, grabbing a handful of bird seed from the feeding tray and chucking that in the box instead, or perhaps I could crawl around on my hand and knees and forage some rabbit droppings? 

By the time the three boxes are full, I have scattered blueberries, sliced homemade banana bread, segmented a tangerine and spread a perfect ratio of Vegemite/butter on wholegrain bread and placed it in its labelled area with no hint of a crust. 

It looks like one of those posh grazing platters when I’m finished, with colourful fruits spewing from its insides. I squash the lid down and pop each box into their backpacks. 

Done. 

It takes ages and, once i’ve added it up, it’s expensive. But, I tell myself the reason I do this is because I don’t want my kids teeth to rot out of their faces and I don’t want to be standing on a pavement looking up as my teenager is craned into a hospital window for gastric bypass surgery. I want them to eat healthy and live long lives even if it does mean I have no money in the bank and have lost the will to live before 8am. 

Well, I pretend that’s the reason, I force myself into believing that is the reason, when actually it’s not. 

No, the real reason is this: 

I want people to think I’m a good parent. I want them to open that box at day-care and at school and think, ‘Wow, this mum really cares’.

My transformation from being a ‘I have a squashed banana at the bottom of my bag’ parent to a ‘Chia bliss ball’ sort of parent happened slowly, over time. 

I saw mothers at playgroups open magical fold-out boxes with different levels and hidden draws filled with dried cranberries and boiled eggs.

When I saw them feeding their offspring like happy penguins from these troves of wonderment, I felt like I wasn’t good enough. That my snacks weren’t as wholesome enough and that I was lazy, a shitty mum. 

My fundamental feeling was – other people’s healthy lunch boxes mean I’m failing as a parent. 

So, I splashed out. I bought three magical boxes with my kids names emblazoned on the front and I gave in to what (I thought) was expected of me. 

I filled each part with things I’d seen in other boxes and I looked up online for ideas. 

I took my new boxes to the park one day and with a smug smile, undid the plastic clasps that lock it shut. A ray of golden light seeped out from inside as I opened it up and I saw the looks of approval, subtle glances from other mums as they admired its contents. One mum hid her box away, and just before she snapped it shut, I saw the corner of a packet of mini double-choc-chip cookies. I gave her weak smile as if to say, 

“I’ve been there, I’m not judging you.” 

But of course, I was. 

I felt superior with my box of high quality snackage. I felt like a better mum than her, for a while anyway. 

Unfortunately, my supremacy didn’t last. Over weeks of keeping up with the demands of the box (the grain, the vegetables, the protein), I started to falter. The pressure to fill each fucking compartment every day of the week made me stressed.

I’d set myself an unreachable standard, a level of snack distribution that just wasn’t sustainable. 

There were times when I couldn’t abide by the box’s demands and I put chocolate in the dairy section and a party pie in where the carrot matchsticks should have resided. I cheated my children by allowing carbs and sugars fill the designated spaces. It was deceitful and I felt the boxes disappointment. 

Not only had I let down the lunchbox, I’d let down myself, the kids and anyone that saw inside. 

The contents of that lunchbox had been successfully representing my perfect parenting and now I was stumbling, unable to keep up the show. Lunchboxes that had been full of hope and quinoa were now representing the true me, a squeezy fruit tube of disappointment. 

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